SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Continuous appeals needs to be sent to the King Abdullah to save the life of Rizana Nafeek 

The Asian Human Rights Commission once again wishes to draw your attention to the case of Rizana Nafeek, the innocent Sri Lankan girl, who has been sentenced to death by beheading in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after an infant accidentally died in her care while being bottle fed. Rizana, who worked as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia, was 17 years old at the time of the incident. The recruitment bureau altered her date of birth in her passport, making her 23-years old in order to employ her.


Women protest in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Colombo urging the Saudi King to withdraw the death sentence on the young Sri Lankan girl, Rizana Nafeek.

There is every probability that the execution of Rizana might be carried out without warning in a very near future. Saudi Arabia has an infamous record of having one of the highest executions rates in the world with at least 69 executions carried out in 2009, 102 in 2008 and 158 in 2007, an average of almost 2 persons a week.

Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1996 and is bound not to execute people convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. However, courts in Saudi Arabia have imposed death sentences on children being as young as 13 at the time of the alleged crime. Furthermore Saudi Arabia has the highest execution rate of women compared to all other countries practicing capital punishment. 40 women have been put to death in Saudi Arabia since 1990, 22 of them were foreign workers just like Rizana.

As the past has shown, there is absolutely no reason to believe Rizana will be an exception if there not immediate pressure is put on King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia to grant her clemency.

Saudi Arabia rules by the law based on Sharia, the Islamic Law, which holds certain restrictions. As the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia recently confirmed her death sentence, the options of judicial remedies have been exhausted. The decision cannot be challenged unless new evidence comes to light, if King Abdullah, who also serves as Prime Minister, grants her a pardon or the parents of the deceased infant withdraw their claim of murder.

Several aspects of the court proceedings relating to the case were found to be highly alarming. The only evidence of wilful murder is the confession made by Rizana herself when she was first brought to the police station. The validity of the confession is especially doubtful, as no proper Tamil translator was available when Rizana, who is a Tamil speaker, was interrogated at the station. Her confession was allegedly taken under duress by a non-authorised translator named Saibo. The lawyers acting for Rizana have expressed doubts about the legality of the translation and the translator’s language qualifications in Tamil. The translator has since left Saudi Arabia and the courts have not been able to locate him and call him as a witness to verify the confession. As the Saudi law permits other persons to appear on behalf of the absent witness to testify to his integrity and qualifications, two witnesses were called by the court under these circumstances. However, both of the witnesses also failed to appear.

Consequently the appeal has not been heard. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court recently confirmed the death sentence, known to the public on October 26, 2010.

It appears that the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs and the officers of the Embassy in Riyadh kept the confirmation of the death sentence quiet and made no public disclosure. Neither Rizana nor her family have been informed after the death sentence was confirmed, and when the Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia was contacted by an international press agency, they apparently stated that the case was still pending. The confirmation was only accidentally discovered on a visit by a concerned person.

Many voices have been raised around the world in concern of the tragic and unjust case of the innocent girl. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among other international bodies have issued appeals to King Abdullah and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to grant Rizana clemency. The Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh has handed over an appeal by the Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa to the same authorities. The Ministry of External Affairs in Colombo reports that Sri Lankan envoys in Riyadh as well as other countries are in constant touch with the respective governments in those countries about Rizana’s case.

A prominent Muslim leader in Sri Lanka last week announced that prayers would be offered at the Mosque in Sri Lanka on behalf of Rizana. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has met with the Saudi Arabian envoy in Colombo and plans to write an appeal to the family for whom Rizana worked. A similar call was made by Director of Caritas Sri Lanka, Fr. George Sigamony, for all Catholics to pray for Rizana. Together with AsiaNews they also launched an appeal to King Abdullah and have urged the Sri Lankan government to implement a policy that protects migrant workers.

This Tuesday, November 9, protesters gathered in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Colombo urging King Abdullah to grant Rizana clemency.

A continuous pressure needs to be put on His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and The Minister of Interior insisting that he grants clemency to Rizana Nafeek and urge for a pardon by the employing family. The AHRC earnestly requests your intervention into the case.

Kindly see our urgent appeal on the case and write to the relevant authorities: AHRC-UAU-041-2010.

For further information on the case please see: AHRC-STM-219-2010AHRC-STM-214-2010STM-003-2009STM-258-2008UA-207-2007UP-097-2007UP-093-2007PL-023-2007UG-004-2007.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-221-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Death penalty,